Author: Paul Johnson

The Alit Collective: Our Inner Circle

As the Manager of the Alit Wine Room in Dundee, my days are spent meeting new guests, welcoming back regulars, and highlighting our wines. This is my opportunity to gauge everyone’s reactions to our wines first-hand. Observing the jubilant reception to these first sips of Alit Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay, or Rose, I am ecstatic to share something special we’ve started – we call it the Alit Collective.

It’s a new idea. For $100 you’re a part of our inner circle. That’s it. No required purchases. No markups on the wine you buy. You’ll also get first access to all of our new releases, and you’ll get invitations to private events at the tasting room and our winery. Drinking enjoyable wine isn’t complicated, and aligning yourself with respected producers shouldn’t be complicated either.

Although our collection of wines are already accessibly priced, the cost is significantly lower for Alit Collective members.  You pay what I pay as an employee, which is the same price that our winemaker, vineyard manager, and owner pay.  It’s a simple concept that always makes new guests do a double take. We are the first winery in the Willamette Valley to create a club concept with this model.  It’s an honest approach that is as straightforward as it sounds.

Why are we doing it like this? We have been involved in the wine industry for years, and there is an unsettling amount of mystery involved in the way people talk about and sell wine. The Collective was a natural progression that followed the creation of the Alit brand.  If you’re like us, you want to know more about what you’re buying and why it costs what it does. Transparency in pricing is just the first step – we want to share everything about our process, so that you can understand the passion and craft that goes into every wine we produce.  With so much variation in price and quality in the market, it’s easy to become intimidated when selecting a bottle. We know that a price tag isn’t the only (or even an accurate) indicator for the caliber of a wine – let us prove it. You will know the precise cost per bottle of wine, and if you’re a member of the Alit Collective, that is the price you’re going to pay.

No charade or faux exclusivity to try and convince you we are producing exceptional wine. We want you to make that decision for yourself. This is our opportunity to make our wines more accessible – a bottle to be discovered, sipped and shared every day without breaking the bank.  A chance to try remarkable wine, and begin to cultivate your palate.  A chance to taste and notice the difference between artisanal and mass produced.

Whether you best enjoy a glass of wine on its own, savoring and considering it, paired with your favorite food, or shared with a loved one, we are not trying to alter the way you experience wine.  We are trying to change the way you have access to it. Inspired by the idea that wine brings people together, the Collective is taking it a step further by inviting you into our inner-circle.  This experiment allows us to control the sale of our wines.  They are intended directly for you from us and not on the supermarket shelfs – no middlemen or additional mark ups.

I’m passionate about the Collective and fortunate to welcome new members into our inner-circle all the time. If you haven’t joined us yet, then come let us prove ourselves to you. There’s no commitment. No mystery. Just delicious wine at an affordable price, for all of us.

Cheers.

Paul Johnson

how to fall even more in love with wine

How to Fall (Even More) in Love with Wine

It’s incredibly complex, but it’s also just grape juice. It can be wildly expensive, or it can be super cheap. It can feel like an exclusive club with inscrutable rules, or like the simplest possible way to conjure a party. Finding your own path into the world of wine can be totally intimidating and maddeningly contradictory. But it can also be pretty magical.

Our take? The key to drinking better wine actually has very little to do with what you knowand everything to do with asking the right questions. You don’t need etiquette or convention, but you do need a sophisticated understanding of the only thing that really matters when it comes to wine: what you, personally, really, really love.  For us, it all starts with asking yourself the four questions below …

Does it taste good?
With food, most of us eat and order with complete confidence. Whether we’re in the mood for a high-end meal or just really great french fries, we’re at ease with our own particularities and preferences. But for some reason, we tend to question our own senses and tastebuds when it comes to wine.DoesTheWineTasteGood

At its simplest and most essential, a glass of wine exists to please you—not the other way around. The only real “secret” to understanding wine is paying close attention to what you find delicious.

How does it make you feel?
The reason most people fall madly, deeply in love with wine has nothing to do with tannins or hints of Edam cheese. It’s because of the way an exceptional glass makes us feel— warmly, vibrantly, delightfully buzzed. But that buzz is always just a little bit different.

Depending on the effect you’re going for, a glass (or two or three) of a particular wine can slow down time, heighten a conversation, ease difficult news, or spark a love affair. And a perfect wine is just one that perfectly matches or enhances its context. So ask yourself, do I feel this wine the way I want to feel it? And does it elevate the thing I’m really doing?

Is it a product you believe in?
Think about what you generally put on your table. From flowers to salt to food, you probably have a set of criteria to decide what makes the cut. Is it a product you believe in?Wine shouldn’t be any different.

To paraphrase the novelist Wendell Berry, drinking wine is “an agricultural act.” If sustainability, craftsmanship and organic food production are something you’re passionate about, it’s worth asking how, where and by whom a bottle was made (and, ahem, supporting grower-producers rather than corporations). In short, think less about the ratings and more about the people, places and practices that brought that bottle to your hands.

Is it worth the money?
Pricing in the wine industry is a bit of a moving target (which is why we’re changing thingsbut that’s another conversation). If a bottle costs $9.99, you probably already know what to expect. But when you’re looking for a different, higher-quality category of wine, pricing is largely a reflection of what the winery wants to communicate, so it’s helpful to have a general sense of what a given bottle should cost in order to make your decision. The better you can become at interpreting what a given bottle’s price-tag is telling you about the wine, the better you’ll be able to judge its value.

EnjoyTheJourney

The quickest way to know if a bottle is worth the price? First, familiarize yourself with the general, objective pricing threshold for a “good” bottle of any given type of wine. If you’re in the mood for Syrah, for example, ask the wine shop owner what’s the least he or she would spend for a quality bottle. (Then, when you encounter bottles of Syrah that cost more than that, ask what makes them special.)

Second, pay attention to how specific the label gets about the growing region. The smaller and more specific the region, the more valuable the wine—so when you spot a $50 bottle from “California,” you’ll know it’s a pass.

Of course, there are no shortcuts. Feeling confident about your tastes isn’t complicated, but it does take time and curiosity (plus access to the good stuff). Start by paying closer attention to your next glass, peppering your local wine store with questions, and seeking out surprises.

We bet you’ll enjoy the journey.

Winemaker Felipe Ramirez in Winery

From our Winemaker: The Essence of Wine

Felipe Ramirez crisscrossed the world before making his way to the Willamette Valley. He was born in Patagonia, Chile; studied enology in Santiago and began his winemaking career in Napa. But it was on vineyards in Burgundy and Alsace where he immersed himself completely in what he calls “this terroir thing”—and never looked back.

Felipe’s deep respect for the role soil plays in the winemaking process took him from France back to the granite-filled hills of Southern Chile, where he founded a co-op of family-run wineries (Slow Vino Chile) as well as his own organic vineyard. He joined us for the very challenging 2013 vintage and beautifully co-managed a harvest beset by some of the most challenging weather conditions ever experienced in Oregon. Not long afterwards, we were unbelievably lucky that he agreed to uproot his wife, Cynthia, and young son, Nico, to join our small team.

Felipe brings a classic wine education coupled with a deep understanding of the interconnectivity of science, art and personality that’s found in a glass of wine. (Plus, he’s an excellent human). But rather than try to describe his approach to winemaking in our own words, we thought we’d share a few of his own …

 

Wine is for eating, drinking and connecting. Not just tasting.
For me, wine is always connected to food. It’s just a liquid that gets people talking. It’s part of a party, part of a meeting, part of the table. It’s a part of life. It’s like bread. Or olive oil. It needs to be there, but naturally. I can’t see it as, like, a rock star thing.

Wine toast over cheese board


The best wines, like the best people,
are surprising and complex.
My definition of a “great wine” is one that has two things that are not very easy to find together. First, it needs to be high quality in terms of flavors, expression and balance. But it also needs to be different; it needs to have a personality. Something about it that grabs you and makes you say, ‘wow, what is this?’ 

It’s a little bit like people, right? There are some people that talk a lot, but they’re not really saying anything. For me, that’s like a wine with a lot of oak and perfume but nothing really special. And there are other people who are maybe a bit more quiet, but then blow your mind with something surprising or insightful.

You can buy wine by the varietal. But it’s really all about the dirt.
Most people choose wine depending on the varietal or the region, and that’s a good place to start. But I always buy wines by the soil. For example, I noticed that every time I taste a wine that really gives me butterflies in my stomach, as the French say, it comes from a place that has rocky soil. I recommend looking for wines where the flavor comes from the earth itself, not from oak. It takes a little bit more work, but a good wine shop should be able to guide you.

Analyzing soil
True love can strike twice.
I’ve made all different kinds of wines in my career. But I’ve been in love two times. The first time was with Syrah. Which was why I went to go work in France. And then, when I was in France, I found my way to Burgundy, so I fell in love with Pinot Noir.  

Winemaking is about more than grapes and fermentation.
When I was younger, I quit my job on a vineyard in Napa and sold everything I owned. I went to France get a Master’s in winemaking and spent there three years studying, working, tasting, eating, and meeting very nice people. That opened up another world for me, not just in term of wine – because when you learn another language, read different books, see different movies, speak with different people, it just leads to new discoveries and, ultimately, new ways of making wine.

Alit team at vineyard

There’s a “trick” to wine appreciation; but it’s simpler than most people think.
I think the most important thing you can do to learn more about wine is just connect with your own senses. Nobody else can tell you what you like. But you do have to be aware of more than taste … you have to pay attention to how it smells, how it looks, how it feels. Start with one glass and say, “do I like this … yes or no?” Pretty soon, you’ll have a group of “yes” wines for yourself and you’ll realize they have something in common. That’s the beginning of having a palate. And from there, you just keep trying all sorts of wines.

 

Alit toast with three wines
To sample three of Alit’s wines, check out our Thanksgiving pack (click image).